“Stephen Boyd, Since that Chariot Race” Detroit Free Press Interview, 1969 (50 Years Ago!)

Stephen Boyd Talks about “Slaves” , Civil Rights, Scientology and Cleopatra!

IMG_0015.jpg

August 1, 1969, Detroit Free Press by Bruce Vilanch

For a man who made his name getting dragged through the mud, Stephen Boyd is surprisingly clean.

His teeth really sparkle, his eyes shine bright, he appears to have full power in all his four limbs- he’s in great shape.

This will assure the thousands who became concerned when Boyd spent the better part of 15 minutes under the hoofs of eight galloping stallions pulling his chariot to oblivion in “Ben-Hur.”

A sizeable portion of skin and bone was sliced off the Boyd body during that scene, all so Charlton Heston could go on to victory in Rome and and Oscar in California.

Undaunted, Boyd picked up his pieces and headed for Hollywood, and Irish heartthrob-in-a-toga, to star in such treasures as “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “Caper of the Golden Bulls” and America’s trash classic, “The Oscar.”

He married (a whirlwind union of 23 days), divorced and was quoted as proclaiming “the only difference between Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot is their hair styles.”

He walked out of “Cleopatra” and into “Jumbo” (in which he shared billing with an elephant) and “Fantastic Voyage” (in which he plunged lymph gland rapids with Raquel Welch).

He even played the heavy in “Genghis Khan.”

It has not been a dull life for Stephen Boyd.

The new Boyd, minus the blue eyes (they were contact lenses) and the massive shoulders (that was padding), stands over six feet tall and is dashingly handsome, but in a decidedly un-Hollywood, non-glamour-boy way. He is finished with Biblical pictures, gladiator spectacles and other trappings of imperial majesty and, in his latest film, plays an enigmatic, yet evil plantation owner in Mississippi circa 1850.

The picture, “Slaves” and was shot on what in movies they call “a shoestring” (small fortune.) Boyd says no one would back “Slaves” until he signed on as its star. “That helped them raise at least some of the money,” he says.

“No one would back ‘Slaves’ because it is about an explosive situation which is explosive only because no one understands it.”

The picture tries to make a statement all about Now and how voices in the black community clamor alternatively for blood and quiet. Stephen Boyd thinks this is the value of “Slaves.”

“Civil rights 100 years from now should not be discussed. Civil rights of today is what is important. I joined the civil rights movement years ago,” the former British subject, now American citizen says. “I gave my word years ago to help. Now I want to find out if their programs are getting to the people they’re supposed to be getting to.”

“I feel a picture like ‘Slaves,’ which addresses itself to some of America’s current problems, is something of a moral obligation for me. As soon as I have fulfilled some of my moral obligations, I can begin making money doing other things so I can have time to fulfill some more.”

The whole idea of moral obligation and responsibility for one’s fellow man, as well as responsibility to oneself, fills up a great deal of Boyd’s conversation. He speaks of co-workers as if they were close relatives, not just contractual partners.

“I was a guest on one of those New York radio panel shows and they were talking about Judy Garland,” he says, “one fellow, I won’t mention his name its so sickening, was carrying on about how she was a no-talent, a faggot hero. It’s disgusting what some people will say in public.”

In an attempt to find his own  mind amidst such goings-on, Boyd has turned to scientology,  a voguish new faith whose speakers turn up regularly on college campuses to lecture for $2.50 a throw.

“I don’t think anything should be suspect because it costs money,” he says. He calls scientology “a process used to make you capable of learning.”

“Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application.”

Basically, scientologists meditate, usually in the presence of a spiritual supervisor, teaching themselves to be open in order to learn. One who has truly opened himself can be elevated to the position of Clear. Stephen Boyd has elevated himself to OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear. It took him nine months.

“Slaves” did not take him quite so long to accomplish, and, hopefully, it will give him equal peace-of-mind. What it certainly will not do is anything big for Stephen Boyd’s career. This he knows and accepts, as he has accepted everything since he walked away from the most expensive movie of all time.

“It was in the original version of ‘Cleopatra,’ the one to be shot in London. I was to play Marc Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor, with Rouben Mamoulian directing, but Elizabeth got sick and everything stopped.

““I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!”

“He doesn’t even mention my chest,” Stephen Boyd says, with that serene scientologist’s smile.
Fullscreen capture 8182018 112813 PM.bmp

Stephen Boyd’s fascination with Scientology

IMG_0001-001

For being a person that valued his individuality, it does seem odd that Stephen Boyd would become so fascinated with a dogmatic, controlling religion like Scientology. But Stephen had been interested in religion since his youth. He had even considered studying theology and becoming a minister when he was growing up in Belfast.

“I was sure hard to convince,” says Steve. At the Scottish Presbyterian church he even argued with the Reverend Nicholson about his sermons. “It amazed me.” states Steve, “that a man could read a text from the Bible and then have the nerve to tell others what it meant. Why, it means some- thing different to everyone who reads it!” He’d tell the good man this and they’d have word battles after church, to the preacher’s delight. But later, when Billy Millar briefly thought he’d like to study theology and be a minister himself, Reverend Nicholson shook his head.

“I know your mind, Billy,” he counseled. “And you won’t do for organized religion. You’d never accept it.” (Modern Screen 1960)

His intense conversations with Dolores Hart during the filming of Lisa in 1961 also revolved around religion and spirituality. “I found him deeply spiritual. We had many discussions about religion, in a general way, but occasionally we spoke of Catholicism. Stephen was adamant that although he was genuinely interested in the broad spectrum of religion, he was not attracted to any specific church. He would come to change that stand.” (The Ear of the Heart by Dolores Hart)

From an interview in 1966, Boyd expressed his interest in “esoteric” religion.

“I am deeply interested in the esoteric form of all religions….Basically it is the development of the inner you. I’m not a member of any church. I don’t subscribe to any one belief except the one true belief. I believe IN GOOD.”

Around 1966 is when Boyd began his interest in L Ron Hubbard‘s Church of Scientology, which would make him one of the first Hollywood stars to follow this religion. Boyd had always expressed an interest in esoteric religions.[33] Dolores Hart expressed her alarm in Stephen’s Scientology interests when he paid her Abbey a visit in 1966. “Remembering his distaste for organized religion, I cautioned him to think twice before getting too involved.” (From The Ear of the Heart) Apparently Boyd’s interest intensified during a stay in New York City in 1968 where he was given his first ‘auditing session’ by a Scientology group. From a Scientology newsletter, Boyd had this to say:

“The first reaction at the ORG offices was rather strange. Here were a bunch of people sitting, talking, walking about busily…and everywhere in that place, people were talking about thing being ‘beautiful.’ Anyway, we signed up for processing to being the following day. And again, while we were there, everything was ‘beautiful’. What the hell is this ‘beautiful’?”
In an interview in August 1969 with the Detroit Free Press, he said that Scientology helped him through the filming of Slaves, and that it is “a process used to make you capable of learning. Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application”.[34] Boyd apparently had been elevated to a Scientology Status of OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear.

Part of the religions appeal to Boyd may have been it’s mysticism. “Those attracted to Scientology often have an interest in the occult – “the powers of the mind” religions…What Scientology is basically saying is, ‘If you clear your mind of problems, you’d be happy.” (Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1969)

Author Gary Valentine Lachman has an even better description from his booked Turn off Your Mind; The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius.

“He (Hubbard) had set off into a terrain that offered endless variations and appeal: the mysteries of the human mind…The aim of Scientology is to awaken its practitioners to their real selves, to regain their true Thetan heritage, and become, more or less, supermen.”
Boyd would actually go on to star and narrate a Scientology recruiting film called Freedom in 1970.[37] A copy of this film can be found at the Library of Congress, but it is not available online via any Scientology resource,[38] which may indicate a falling out Boyd had with the Church later on for using his name for recruiting purposes.

Dolores Hart again mentioned in her memoirs some of her last communication with Boyd concerning Scientology. “(In 1970) he announced his plans to become an active member of the organization (Church of Scientology) and said that his life and mine could never find a crossing point, which saddened me.”This sounds exactly like what happens when Scientologists are called to disconnect from people who are opposed to their beliefs. Is this what happened between Boyd and Hart?

It’s hard to track Boyd’s connection to the Church of Scientology past 1970. Did he have a falling out with the Church? Did he continue to be a member? And why was he attracted to the complexities of this dogmatic, cult religion to begin with? It’s impossible to say. It’s just an intriging mystery about Stephen Boyd which we will never solve.